Playing House

Playing House

In ‘House: The Wounded Healer on Television: Jungian and Post-Jungian Reflections’

Edited by Luke Hockley and Leslie Gardner

Published by Routledge in 2010

Click here to view this book on


House MD is a globally successful and long-running medical drama. House: The Wounded Healer on Television employs a Jungian perspective to examine the psychological construction of the series and its namesake, Dr Gregory House.

The book also investigates the extent to which the continued popularity ofHouse MD has to do with its representation of deeply embedded cultural concerns. It is divided into three parts – Diagnosing House, Consulting House and Dissecting House, – and topics of discussion include:

  • specific details, themes, motifs and tropes throughout the series
  • narrative, character and visual structure
  • the combination of performative effects, text and images of the doctor and his team
  • the activities of the hero, the wounded healer and the puer aeternus.

Offering an entirely fresh perspective on House MD, with contributions from medical professionals, academics and therapists, this book is essential reading for students and scholars of Jungian psychology. The inclusion of a glossary of Jungian terms means that this book can also be enjoyed by fans of House MD who have been seeking a more in-depth analysis of the series.


Usually Jungians apply their psychological terms to esoteric phenomena (ancient religion, myth, fairy tale, alchemy). The social relationship dynamics seen in House M.D. are far more contemporary and we can relate to them far more easily than we can the pre-modern interests of many Jungians.

Paul Budding (editor of House M.D. Professional Magazine) 

You can read a sample of the chapter ‘Playing House’ below:

‘Playing House’

Playing House: Convincing Them Of What You Know Simply By Who You Are
Christopher Hauke

This chapter will look at the construction of expert authority and knowledge in the context of the television series ‘House’ where the leading actor brings a back-story to the screen through his personal origins, British national persona and history of previous acting roles. Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of Dr. Greg House benefits from the authority that derives from these factors. Theoretical authority and practical authority are compared and, while the character of Greg House is written as if he were a maverick, it is concluded that the casting of Laurie reinforces an unexamined validation of (and a conservative trust in) expert authority, in general, and its ‘right’ to disobey protocol and convention especially in the field of medicine.

Casting: “You either are that guy or you aren’t.”

“Casting is destiny, particularly in movies, because casting is character – and character is plot. Casting really controls story. One guy would do a thing, another guy wouldn’t. And if you’re the guy in the close-up, character acting isn’t going to help – you either are that guy, or you aren’t.”

Warren Beatty quoted in Harris, 2009: 188-9

When Bryan Singer, executive producer of House, M.D. viewed Hugh Laurie’s audition tape for the part of Dr Greg House, he commented,

”Now this is the sort of strong American actor I’m looking for!”

(Challen, 2007: 39)

The writer and creator of House, David Shore, was a fan of Laurie’s T.V. comedy work – upper-class English twits like Lieutenant George and the Prince Regent in Blackadder and Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster –

“ But”, he says, “I honest-to-God never thought he’d be right for this role.”

(ibid p 39)

And, knowing Laurie mainly from twenty years of British comedy shows, it took me quite a few episodes of House to get over the expectation that, any minute, Greg House would pull one of Lt. George’s faces with “I say! D’you really think so Blackadder?”

By asking how Hugh Laurie got the part of Greg House and made it so hugely successful, this chapter will be exploring the effects of such unpredictable casting on the role and character of Dr. Greg House and the T.V. series as a whole. As we unpack all the elements I will show how the themes of authority, expert authority (especially in medicine) and anti-authority are particularly well carried by the actor Hugh Laurie. This is partly due to his being British and upper middle-class – a strange thing to say when this aspect is completely obscured Laurie’s New Jersey-accented Dr House. I will also show how Laurie’s biographical background, personality traits and previous roles offer clues to his casting and a route into the character of Dr Greg House. The unobvious and unpredictable in casting Laurie as House has lead indirectly to the shows greater success. This does not contradict Warren Beatty’s (and much of Hollywood’s) view of casting as character, but suggests how a more obvious, conventional choice of actor may have approached the House character more directly and consequently, ended up way off target.

Radical casting is not something that the studios and networks are good at imagining. David Shore reports that selling the casting of Hugh Laurie (who was then forty-five) to the suits at Fox network was a challenge. Laurie had just been playing a middle-aged dad in Fortysomething on U.K. T.V. and the executives had to be persuaded along the lines of the depth and experience Laurie would bring to the role. Because he was certainly not what Fox might have had in mind for a male lead in

‘the increasingly youthful world of primetime show casting in the U.S.’

(Challen, 2007: 40).

This was Hugh Laurie’s assumption too; he reports that when he was sent the lines to record an audition tape for the part of Dr. House he believed this curmudgeonly character was a supporting role not the lead, and merely for a pilot show at that.

The circumstances of this audition tape, the first sighting that Singer and Shore would have of Laurie ‘as’ House are fascinating in hindsight. Laurie was on location in Namibia shooting a small part in a movie The Flight of the Phoenix (2004). At the end of a long location day and thinking of his next possible acting job, Laurie got a colleague to film him reciting the script excerpts by the light of a shaving mirror in a Namibian bathroom. With no conscious intention to offer ideas for House’s ‘look’, the few-days stubble Laurie needed for his movie character had to be retained, and he wore the character’s costume as well – a dusty leather jacket (both of which he apologizes for on the tape). However, Laurie says he saw something in the role of Dr. House that was special for him,

“He was all there in those pages they faxed me, I could hear him in my head – the rhythm of his speech. What he was hiding behind the meanness and sarcasm. I could see him very clearly in my head from the start.”

(Challen, 2007: 38)

It seems that Hugh Laurie knew he could be convincing as Greg House, while Singer and Shore intuited he could surpass all their expectations. Where might such convictions might have come from?

Before House, Hugh Laurie had three excursions onto the U.S. screen: Jasper the henchman to Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close) in the rather poor 1996 re-make of the animation 101 Dalmations, as Vincente Minelli (father of Liza) in a 2001 T.V. biopic Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows which gave Laurie more of a chance, and in Stuart Little (1999) and Stuart Little 2 (2002). It is in these last two where he plays Frederick Little, head of a fairly affluent New York family consisting of his wife and their two young sons, one human and one who is a mouse… Click here to buy this book on and read more!

One Comment to Playing House

  1. Megm991 says:

    I really enjoyed this bit of writing and plan to read the book. I wonder whether the book addresses grumpiness and dry wit as a particularly English attribute? It makes sense to me for cultural reasons that Gregory House as written would be well understood and played by an English actor.

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